3 Newsletters you need to read during Women’s History Month — and all year round

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We all get way too much email, I know, but some things are worth adding to your inbox. Like these 3 fantastic newsletters.

  1. A Woman to Know | This well-researched yet concise newsletter is the perfect daily morsel of rad history/inspiration that I can read at some random spare moment and then immediately archive. Created by Washington Post writer Julia Carpenter.
  2. Unladylike | This one comes from Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, the sharp and sassy ladies who formerly hosted one of my favorite podcasts. Unladylike takes more dedicated reading time, but it catches me up on the good, bad and the ugly of the past week’s societal (and global) conversations about women, gender and feminism.
  3. Women in the World | In a conversational tone, this newsletter shares the gist of stories from the NY Times page of the same name. Full of links to the NY Times stories of course.
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Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: Kidlit about Black Music History

Each Wednesday in February, I am highlighting great nonfiction picture books about African-Americans. These posts are my way of marking Black History Month and also part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge organized by Alyson Beecher.
Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown SoundRhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: From award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney comes the story of the music that defined a generation and a movement that changed the world. Berry Gordy began Motown in 1959 with an $800 loan from his family. He converted the garage of a residential house into a studio and recruited teenagers from the neighborhood-like Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross-to sing for his new label. Meanwhile, the country was on the brink of a cultural revolution, and one of the most powerful agents of change in the following decade would be this group of young black performers from urban Detroit.

My thoughts: I love Motown music and relished reading some of the stories behind the voices, instruments and business behind the sound. With great archival photos and much more text than could finished in a read-aloud, “Rhythm Ride” feels somewhere between a book and a documentary. But does that mean it’s dry and boring? Not in the least, because it’s narrated by “the groove,” and she talks as smooth and sweet as she should.
The frequent plays-on-words can be a little much at times but otherwise the conceit works wonderfully. Would we expect anything less from Andrea Davis Pinkney?

Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence MillsHarlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renée Watson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: From acclaimed author Renee Watson and Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson comes the true story of Florence Mills. Born to parents who were former-slaves Florence knew early on that she loved to sing. And that people really responded to her sweet, bird-like voice. Her dancing and singing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired songs and even entire plays! Yet with all this success, she knew firsthand how bigotry shaped her world. And when she was offered the role of a lifetime from Ziegfeld himself, she chose to support all-black musicals instead.

Trombone ShortyTrombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renée Watson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Along with esteemed illustrator Bryan Collier, Andrews has created a lively picture book autobiography about how he followed his dream of becoming a musician, despite the odds, until he reached international stardom.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and QueensMahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: Even as a young girl, Mahalia Jackson loved gospel music. Life was difficult for Mahalia growing up, but singing gospel always lifted her spirits and made her feel special. She soon realized that her powerful voice stirred everyone around her, and she wanted to share that with the world. Although she was met with hardships along the way, Mahalia never gave up on her dreams. Mahalia’s extraordinary journey eventually took her to the historic March on Washington, where she sang to thousands and inspired them to find their own voices.

My thoughts: What I love about “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens” is the voice. It starts from the first two lines:
“People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right. A voice that was bigger than she was.”
That conversational tone carries through Mahalia’s youth into her adult singing career:
“Mahalia kept driving on those may-blow tires: tires so bald, they may blow any minute. No money to fix them. Keep singing and driving.”
I can just hear one of Mahalia’s relatives or neighbors from down south telling the story, and it makes me feel like I’m sitting on their front porch listening.

Little Melba and Her Big TromboneLittle Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: Melba Doretta Liston loved the sounds of music from as far back as she could remember. As a child, she daydreamed about beats and lyrics, and hummed along with the music from her family’s Majestic radio. At age seven, Melba fell in love with a big, shiny trombone, and soon taught herself to play the instrument. By the time she was a teenager, Melba’s extraordinary gift for music led her to the world of jazz. She joined a band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson and toured the country. Overcoming obstacles of race and gender, Melba went on to become a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few.

My thoughts: The artwork really drew me into Melba’s story. There’s something about the curving, bending stances of the people Morrison paints that so exquisitely matches the smooth notes of jazz, and I love it. The figures also mirror the shape of Melba’s trombone.

Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-And-White Jazz Band in HistoryBenny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-And-White Jazz Band in History by Lesa Cline-Ransome

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: A stunning picture book celebrates the first widely seen integrated jazz performance: the debut of the Benny Goodman quartet with Teddy Wilson in 1936 Chicago.

My thoughts: In a unique approach to a picture book, this dual biography tells the parallel stories of Benny and Teddy developing their love and talents for music as children. As adults they meet and form an interracial swing band that draws fans through recordings but doesn’t perform live — until one day in Chicago in 1936.

Detailed back matter acknowledges that Benny Goodman had to be coaxed to perform onstage in an interracial trio because of fear for the impact on his individual career. Good fodder for a classroom or parent-child discussion of values and choices.

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5 must-read children’s books about the Women’s Suffrage Movement

You know that phrase “I can’t even” that’s been floating around the past few years?

That’s how I feel about discussing this year’s election.

But when it comes to voting, I can.

And I will.

In the meantime, I’ll be distracting myself with these wonderful picture books about the women who made my vote possible. Let me know in the comments if you have favorites not listed here. In particular, I’d like to find a strong contemporary picture book about Sojourner Truth.

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles1. Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has it all! A cross-country road trip, activism for women’s suffrage, great female friendship, and a kitten.
By introducing readers to Nell Richardson and Alice Burke’s 1916 adventure, Mara Rockliff and Hadley Hooper show children that many people were part of a long journey to getting women the vote.
The text and illustrations work together to capture Alice and Nell’s verve and zeal. You’ll have the refrain “Votes for women!” running through your head well after setting the book down.

I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote2. I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well before women won the vote across the U.S., women in Wyoming had a say in their state government. This story shows how Esther Morris helped make that happen with a can-do spirit and a bit of tea time cleverness.

This biography covers the span of Morris’s compelling life. I’d love to see a picture book that focuses in more on how women in Wyoming got the vote and who else was involved. Continue reading

Two picture books about Irena Sendler | #IMAWYR 6/5/16

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“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

In recent weeks I’ve read two biographies of WWII hero Irena Sendler.

Jars of HopeJars of Hope by Jennifer Roy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simultaneously chilling and powerful story of one woman’s bravery in saving children during the Holocaust. It shows two opposite extremes of human capabilities.
I appreciate that although the book focuses on Irena Sendler, it also shows and names some of the others who also risked their lives in Zegota, an underground group of Polish men and women who rescued Jews from the Nazis. I also appreciate that it shows multiple families and scenarios in which Irena worked to rescue children. As opposed to other excellent books that focus on one individual or family’s experience, that choice points to the magnitude of the atrocities, as well as underscoring Irena’s courage.
There is something a little strange about the book’s layout, though — particularly the text placement and end pages — that makes it feel a bit like a print-on-demand text.
This is definitely worth reading if you don’t know anything about Irena Sendler, as I didn’t.
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw GhettoIrena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An illustrated biography of a Polish social worker who risked her life over and over to save Jewish children during the Holocaust. Illustrations done in oil paints bring the historical figure to life. The story is best suited for older children with some background knowledge about WWII. It is text-heavy, so it’s not ideal for a read-aloud, but it provides more details about Irena Sendler’s work than a similar book, “Jars of Hope.” Good for an elementary classroom research project.

Interview with “Fearless Flyer” author Heather Lang

Heather LangLast week I wrote about my happy discovery of nonfiction kids’ books by Heather Lang. Her most recent title is “Fearless Flyer,” about early aviatrix Ruth Law. This week Heather answered some questions from me about the picture book biography. Enjoy!

Do you enjoy flying?
I’m what you would call a fearFUL flyer. I always do experiential research for every book, which I knew might be a little scary for this one! I wanted to do something that would help me understand what it was like to fly in an open cockpit. Since I couldn’t find an early biplane, I decided paragliding was the next best thing. Once I let go of the initial panic and terror, it was a wonderful experience—soaring up and down like a bird. It inspired me to weave the theme of liberty into the story—both the freedom she felt and sought as a pilot and as a woman. I’m not saying I want to become a regular, but I’m not as afraid of flying anymore!

How did you first learn about Ruth Law?
Since I’m a nervous flyer, those early aviators who risked their lives going up in their flimsy flying machines have always intrigued me. I read a lot of books about flying and early aviation and was especially fascinated by the women who came before Amelia Earhart. They are virtually unknown. Ruth’s spunky personality drew me in right away, and I loved how she became a mechanic, learning every nut and bolt on her machine. Continue reading

Nonfiction picture book Wednesday: Fearless Flyer and Queen of the Track

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Check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday link-up at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Last week I discovered an author kindred spirit.

It started when I pulled “Fearless Flyer” off the new books shelf in the children’s section of the library. After reading the story of pilot Ruth Law’s attempt to fly from Chicago to New York in one day in 1916, I did what I always do at the end of a when a book rings my kidlit bells: I read the author bio. Continue reading

True stories of 3 diverse athletes and 1 female sportswriter | #IMWAYR 4/18/16

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“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

It finally turned springlike in recent days, with buds on trees, and kids returning to baseball diamonds and lacrosse fields.

Apropos of the change in season, I’ve read several great children’s books about athletes (and one sportswriter) recently. Here are my Goodreads reviews for those books.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball DreamCatching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This picture book is about Marcenia Lyle, a girl who loves baseball more than anything. We learn in the afterword that Marcenia was signed to the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, making her the first female member of an all-male professional baseball team, but this story doesn’t get into Marcenia’s adult life. It focuses on one spring when Marcenia dreams of being accepted to a summer baseball day camp run by the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. That means not only showing off her skills to the man in charge, but also convincing her father to let her attend.

Crystal Hubbard’s choice to highlight one emblematic chapter of Marcenia Lyle’s childhood is a great way of introducing a lesser known athlete through a conflict that builds and that draws in young readers.

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the GameThe William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

William Hoy is a man worth knowing about. Plenty of details and events in here for all kinds of kids to relate to. Well written and well illustrated.

Continue reading

Who was Pura Belpré?

Storyteller's Candle

I’ve come across mentions of the Pura Belpré awards a few times in recent months. There are lots of children’s writing awards, mostly named after literary figures, so I hadn’t taken time to find out who Pura Belpré was.

Then I read “The Storyteller’s Candle/La Velita de Los Cuentos,” written by Lucía González and illustrated by Lulu Delacre. This picture book is historical fiction that highlights Belpré’s impact on Latino children and families. It features text in both English and Spanish.

In 1929, two children, Hildamar and Santiago, are enduring the biting New York City winter — a harsh change from there native Puerto Rico. On their cold walks to school they gaze at the grand public library building, wondering what’s inside. Their aunt tells them it’s not a place for Spanish speakers.

Enter Pura Belpré, the city’s first Latina librarian.

She visits Hildamar and Santiago’s school to tell stories and perform a puppet show. She invites all the children to the library, saying, “La biblioteca es para todos.”

The library is for everyone.

Continue reading

Interview with Kate Schatz, author of Rad American Women A-Z

Yesterday I reviewed “Rad American Women A-Z,” an alphabet book written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. Today I’m sharing a video interview I did with Kate last weekend. I enjoyed hearing how she chose the women and also how kids have reacted to the book so far. Hope you enjoy it, too!

 

I’m linking up with Alyson Beecher’s Nonfiction Picture Book challenge today. Find more great nonfiction picture books on her post and other bloggers’ links.

Rad American Women A-Z: A Perfect Read for Women’s History Month

Rad American Women A-Z I’m sure it’s no accident that “Rad American Women A-Z” came out at the start of Women’s History Month. Written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, this alphabet book introduces readers to American heroes from political activist Angela Davis to anthropologist/writer Zora Neale Hurston, with a truly diverse collection of women in between. The opening offers a broad definition for the term “rad” in the title:

What does it mean to be “rad”? Well, it means a few things. “Rad” is short for “radical,” which comes from the Latin word meaning “from the root.” So a radical person can be someone like Ella Baker, who did grassroots organizing. A radical can be a person who wants to make big changes in society, like Angela Davis and the Grimke sisters, who fought to end discrimination of all kinds. Radical can also be used to describe something that is different from the usual, like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial or Ursula LeGuin’s innovative science fiction. “Rad” is also a slang word that means “cool” or “awesome.” Like when flashy Flo-Jo ran faster than any woman in the world, or when Patti Smith takes the stage to rock out.

Each rad lady gets a one-page biography, complemented by a cut-paper portrait in bold colors. Some of the names, like Billie Jean King, were familiar to me, but lots were new, too, such as  Jovita Idar, who fought for free, bilingual education on the Texas/Mexico border in the early 20th century.

Ella Baker and Yuri Kochiyama

Ella Baker and Yuri Kochiyama. Miriam Klein Stahl’s cut-paper illustrations from “Rad American Women A-Z.”

Something I love how Schatz tackles the ever-difficult “X” page: “It’s for the women we haven’t learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read.” It’s true that there are many women throughout history whose stories we’ve missed, but “Rad American Women A-Z” has 25 worth learning. Get yourself a copy and pass it on! (It’s currently only available through City Lights Books, the publisher.) And be sure to check back tomorrow, when I’ll post a video interview I did with the book’s author, Kate Schatz.